The Health Perks of Being a Narcissist

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Narcissists are not the most pleasant people to have in your life, but there are, it seems, some health perks to the personality trait, according to a paper published recently in Personality and Individual Differences. In it, Peter K. Jonason of the University of Western Sydney reports on the health implications of some of the nastier characteristics of human nature: narcissism, Machiavellianism (a manipulative personality, basically), and psychopathy, a trio psychologists call the Dark Triad. Of these, only narcissism was associated with few physical or mental illnesses, and, according to self-reports, the trait is also linked with a stronger subjective sense of well-being.

The researchers used a variety of indicators to measure the physical and mental health of 1,389 undergraduates at an American university, plus 2,023 high-school students and 280 British undergrads. The study participants took questionnaires to assess Dark Triad traits, admitting how strongly they agreed with statements like “I tend to want others to admire me” or “I have used deceit or lied to get my way.” The students also answered surveys designed to measure psychological health and social skills, as well as a survey asking about their physical health (“Compared to others your age, how would you rate your health?”). 

Overall, Jonason and his team found few links between narcissism and physical- or mental-health issues; narcissists even tended to report higher subjective well-being than those who scored lower in narcissism. Psychopathy and Machiavellianism, on the other hand, were linked to worse health overall, including mental ailments like depression.

The authors explain their findings this way:

Narcissism may be unique from the other traits in its “social” orientation; characterized by a tendency to seek external validation and attention and high emotional intelligence. Unlike psychopathy and Machiavellianism that may be associated with a tendency to distance oneself from others, narcissism may facilitate the active and passive accrual of a social network. This may act as a buffer from the deleterious health outcomes that the other traits are linked to. 

Psychopathy and Machiavellianism, in other words, are traits that tend to result in social isolation. Narcissists, on the other hand, live for the validation of other people, and this social aspect of the trait may end up protecting their health. (Though it could also be that narcissists, full of themselves as they are, gave themselves all A-pluses in this series of self-reports.) Irritating as they are, this finding suggests that narcissists may win in the end.